Tag Archives: margaritas

Red Lobster at Night, Casual Diner’s Delight

Is there any casual dining establishment that’s enjoyed a catapult back into the public consciousness like Red Lobster has in the past year? RL has been with us since the 60s, with its life-giving Cheddar Bay Biscuits and its seemingly endless -fests (see: Lobster, Shrimp, etc), but Beyonce’s reference to it as a post-coital reward for satisfactory lovemaking has reminded us all that it’s time to revisit the place that brings slightly classy seafood to the masses.

The chain’s longevity and its distinction as being the only true seafood restaurant around in the upper Midwest gave this encounter a special feeling. Also contributing to that special feeling? The fact that this was two members’ first time at any Red Lobster. We kept expectations high for those tasty biscuits, and low for everything else.

This casual encounter was also notable for welcoming Sadie, Rachel’s newly-born daughter, as a participant. She slept almost the whole time, but her outfit showed that she was committed to the cause.

A thematically-appropriate onesie? Come on, that’s adorable.

Food:

Seafood, duh. But a wide variety of preparations for said seafood kept it interesting. Would you like your seafood fried? Skewered? Atop pasta? What about a sauce or seasoning? The menu was not quite Cheesecake Factory-level of length and complexity, but it was somewhat daunting.

John says: Johnny on the spot, aka Rachel Levitt, let us know if we sign up for the Red Lobster Club we get a free dessert or app with the purchase of 2 entrees. So we hit that up. Aaron ordered some calamari. It was fine. I ordered the Ultimate Feast for my dinner! It didn’t disappoint. Lobster tail, crab legs, two types of shrimp, rice, mashed potatoes, and a salad. Everything was good. 

Jenna says: I found the lengthy menu to be overwhelming, almost to the level of Cheesecake Factory’s menu. I sort of assumed that my first visit to RL should include lobster, but holy hell, that s**t’s expensive. I went instead for a lightly breaded tilapia in honor of Tilapia Monday [Ed. note: Follow @twinkiejiggles on Snapchat to learn more], and it was very good. Not too fishy or oily, perfect ratio of breading to parm to fish. It even was better the next day. Dinner included a basic bitch house salad, steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes, all fine. The cheddar bay biscuits were…..overrated? Sorry not sorry, I said it. Perhaps I found them just “meh” because my pants are still tight from eating my weight in delicious biscuits in Nashville [Ed. note: What a f***ing hipster].

Tilapia Monday

Rachel says: In true Rachel fashion, I spent too much time kibitzing with my fellow diners and not enough time looking at the menu, which led to panic ordering. But it turned out just fine. My garlic shrimp skewers were tasty and light. The menu also features calorie counts for all food, with which I have a love-hate relationship. Don’t tell me my business, menu! But also, thanks for helping me make healthier choices. Confession: I also think the Cheddar Bay Biscuits are overrated. Good, but overrated.

Shrimp skewers. Note also the plate that once held biscuits.

Food rating:  

Beverages:

The drink menu tended to skew more towards “beach” than “asea,” but you didn’t hear our crew complaining. [Ed. note: What would an “asea” themed drink be? Seawater served out of a buoy?] Lots of blended drinks and synthetic fruit flavors.

John says: I had a Malibu hurricane. It was refreshing unlike other hurricanes. I’m looking at Katrina and Andrew. 

Jenna says: I really wanted a well made margarita on this particular Monday evening. As in no super sweet margarita mix, just tequila, triple sec, lime juice. I tried to explain my desire to Susan and her suggestion was to add soda water to cut the sweetness of the mix. That’s a stupid idea, Susan. My marg was full of soda water, and not enough tequila. Despite the snickering from my dining mates, I stand by my request. [Ed. note: Stop trying to make margaritas happen at non-Mexican establishments, Jenna. Bad marg once, shame on them. Bad marg twice, shame on you…]

Rachel says: This was only my second drink postpartum, after not drinking for about a year, so I really regressed and went for a pina colada topped with strawberry puree. OMG IT WAS DELICIOUS. 

Behold, a table full of delicious yet obnoxious beverages. Not pictured: A decent margarita.

Beverages rating:

Service:

John says: We had great service! Another home run. She was very friendly and helpful. She even made sure our order got in before the table of 16 in the corner did. That was huge. She spoke very highly of Red Lobster and that was really cool. She wasn’t Earth but she was damn close. 

Jenna says: Susan, oh Susan. Our evening together had its high points (she made sure our orders got put in prior to a large party), low points (her defending RL’s decision to not make a bigger deal about Beyonce name dropping the chain) and just weird points (more info than needed on her love life). One thing’s for sure though, Susan LOVES working for RL, specifically this location, and she will defend the s**t out of them. Our relationship with Susan was a rollercoaster, but in the end she earns 5+ cheesecakes because she checked on me multiple times while I was dealing with the aftermath of my car being broken into [Ed. note: What kind of a**hole breaks into a car in a Red Lobster parking lot???], and she brought me supplies to help cover my broken window.

Rachel says: I agree with everyone else in our party, Susan was top-notch. Such a pro move getting our order in before the big group. Nothing makes me harrumph harder than having food be delayed. Susan was maybe a little too talkative at times, and spoke a lot about her dating status when it was just time for the damn check or whatever. But I don’t hold it against her. The newly-created mom in me also appreciated that she made us agree to actually drink our water before she brought out waters for all of us. Susan is not putting up with any BS.

Service rating:

Ambience:

Ahoy! Red Lobster definitely leaned into its maritime heritage [Ed. note: Red Lobster is based in Orlando, so no actual maritime heritage to speak of], but not too much. They could have gone with a crap-on-the-walls aesthetic, like a nautical Chili’s, but they didn’t. Way to take the high road, RL. Except when it comes to the depressing tank full of lobsters in the entry way. Give ’em a little wiggle room, why don’t you?

John says: Nautical theme of course. The obligatory lobsters in aquarium was gawked at. Nothing too exciting. 

Jenna says: This was my very first visit to the RL, and I went in with the lowest expectations. I expected it to smell like the aquarium at the Minnesota Zoo. Or like the flaky food you feed goldfish. Much to my surprise, not only was there barely a smell, but I totally dug the decor. I am such a sucker for anything nautical, turn an anchor into a light fixture and throw an East Coast seaside on the wall and I’m yours.

Jenna attempts to discern whether a squall is a-brewing.

Rachel says: Classier than I’d expected. I figured there’d be way more whimsical decoration than their was. This kind of restraint is admirable, but made the dining room somewhat bland. Kudos for not having a fish smell, but demerits for having a bathroom that smelled like one at the State Fair.

Ambience rating:

Casualosity:

John says: VERY casual. It was so casual even a baby was allowed in. Specifically, Sean and Rachel’s newborn Sadie! She was fun.

Jenna says: I’m reaching a point in this ranking process where I’m getting downright pissy that the cost of food and drinks at these “casual” restaurants is on par with the not so casual restaurants in this city.

Rachel says: On the one hand, not very casual. Prices were pretty high, and the dark wood and cloth napkins gave it a somewhat classy feel. Susan talked about how often this place is used as a date spot, which tells me it’s not very casual. On the other hand, Aaron wore Crocs as footwear, and no one really noticed. [Ed. note: We’d love to know more about how Aaron felt with this footwear chocie, but he refuses to take this project seriously and submit his ratings.]

Crocs. Very casual, very gross.

Casualosity rating:

Dessert:

John says: Putting our freebies to work (described in detail earlier so I won’t explain again, you can’t make me) we ordered two desserts: vanilla bean cheesecake and a chocolate cake with ice cream. Both were quite tasty. I wish the cheesecake had been better than Old Country Buffet’s though. 

Jenna says: All the cheesecakes/gooey brownies/ice cream things are starting to blend together. I’m sure the dessert was fine.

Rachel says: The vanilla cheesecake was tastier than anticipated. The chocolate cake was good, nothing groundbreaking. I’d hoped for something more…molten. But no complaints. 

Dessert rating:

Favorite part:

John says: Special guests! Always my favorite part when it happens. Rachel’s husband Sean was with as well as baby Sadie! My sister Jessica also was there! All great additions.

Jenna says: Sadie’s first casual encounter! Spending Tilapia Monday with Sean McPherson, creator of Tilapia Monday! John’s sister!

Rachel says: Special guests, like my husband and baby!

Least favorite part:

John says: For how seemingly empty the place was, we waited quite a long time to be seated.

Jenna says: My car getting broken into while I was eating mediocre biscuits. I’m still finding glass shards in my lunch bag.

Rachel says: Jenna’s car getting broken into. Having to tolerate too much small talk from Susan, at times. 

Overall rating: 

Next  up: Fueling ourselves with chicken and testosterone at Buffalo Wild Wings!

 

TGI Friday’s: A Flair for the Casual

Sunday, October 2 marks the date of two occasions: The beginning of the Jewish New Year (Happy 5777 everyone! Best year ever!), and also the casual dining encounter that brings us to halfway done with our list. Granted, five of those restaurants are nowhere near the Twin Cities and we will never review them (and one of them is “getting hit by a car,” which is impossible to schedule as a group), but we still feel it’s quite an accomplishment. What better way to celebrate than to visit one of the top-ranked suburbs in the area, St. Louis Park?

TGI Friday’s (#18 on our list) falls alongside Chili’s in terms of nostalgia. Our group was eager to swap stories of visits earlier in life, as well as lament the change in slogan from “In here, it’s always Friday!” to some focus-grouped benign phrase that is unmemorable to the extreme. Plus, did you know that TGI Friday’s servers NO LONGER WEAR FLAIR?! It seems unconscionable. But, as Nobel Laureate* Bob Dylan once said, “times change, get over it.”

Food:

Friday’s menu is packed full of casual dining goodness. Most notably, they’ve realized that people love pouring smoky corn syrup on their food, so Jack Daniels sauce makes an appearance on nearly every page.

Jenna says: I decided to live dangerously and order the Bourbon Barrel Mahi Mahi. Fish, at TGI Friday’s. Seems crazy guys, but I went for it. And you know what? It was GOOD. Well seasoned, not overly “fishy” tasting, appropriate portion size. Served with perfectly salty mashed potatoes and broccoli, I might say the meal was better than Outback. Bonus points for the beer cheese dip that came with the pretzel, I think we all wanted to pitch a tent and live in that dip.

Jenna's surprisingly tasty fish dish, served on a plate designed by the Jetsons.
Jenna’s surprisingly tasty fish dish, served on a plate designed by the Jetsons.

Aaron says: I had the jack daniel’s burger, which was great and had good flavor with the Jack Daniels BBQ sauce. [Ed. note: Aaron sent in his comments while on vacation, hiking with his dog or something. Hence the brevity.]

Sarah says: We ordered pretzel sticks and cheese for an appetizer. I was expecting something just slightly above what you’d get at the Fargo South High concession stand, so I was really surprised by how great it was! The pretzel seemed fresh out the oven and the cheese sauce was so good that I saved some for my steak. Don’t judge. My steak was good but I ordered it medium rare and it came medium well which was really disappointing. The mashed potatoes were rich and delicious. My other side was a tomato mozzarella salad. It was good except for the part where Friday’s thinks I’m too stupid to know what a Caprese salad is. [Ed. note: We’re here to eat, not to learn Italian, hippie.]

John says: I was very happy with my meal. We ordered pretzels for the table that were awfully salty. I had the Jack Daniels chicken and Battered Shrimp meal with cheddar mac & cheese, plus broccoli. The portions were a little small for the price but I left content.

Rachel says: I am a Jack Daniels sauce evangelist. I love that stuff. But for some reason, I panicked and ordered a goddamn Cobb salad. I have brought shame onto my head and the heads of my family. The pretzel was delicious. Served piping hot (no other version of hot is acceptable) with creamy cheese sauce, it was a hit with the table. I would happily move into Jenna’s cheese sauce tent. 

Food rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Ambience:

As opposed to the anticipated wall-to-wall quirky crap on the walls, this Friday’s seemed somewhat understated, although the signature red and stripes could still be found, connecting this modern Friday’s to its ancestors.

Jenna says: I don’t remember much about the ambience because I was too excited about the FLAIR John C Ward brought us to wear. [Ed. note: An entire bag full of buttons. This group is the freaking best.]

Aaron says: Not enough sh*t on the walls.  We were in a fancier part of town, so the lights were kind of dim (except for the spot light on Jenna) and overall kind of an more upscale vibe.

John says: This was kind of a fancy TGI Friday’s in my mind. There was an ultra exclusive upstairs (at least that’s what I was lead to believe). My favorite part was the American Ryder Cup fans coming in to celebrate America’s victory (USA! USA! USA!). Suck it Europe (except Ireland which is the home of the gods).

Ambience ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Service:

Jenna says: John and I were on time (AHEM). Everyone else was late, and our server was super accommodating with our not-so-punctual friends. Seemed to take a bit of time to get our food, but he checked on us multiple times. I appreciated the mellow vibes he was putting out.

Sarah says: I have no complaints, but our server still wasn’t Earth. Oh Earth, nothing compares 2 u.

John says: Again, top notch service. Our server was patient with our frantic ordering. He checked on us numerous times. Not Earth level good but great nonetheless.

Rachel says: I agree that our server showed infinite patience with our panicked, piecemeal ordering. HOWEVER, I don’t think we would have been so panicked if he hadn’t insisted on checking in on us every two minutes. We’re a group of friends clearly chatting and having a good time. Give us more than 30 seconds between check-ins to decide on our beverages and such. DOUBLE HOWEVER, if he hadn’t been a little overattentive, we would have been late to our next engagement (trivia). So it all worked out in the end. 

Service rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Casualosity:

Jenna says: Definitely the least casual place we’ve visited. Way too expensive for a casual dining experience, both food and drinks. My fish dish (rhyme time!) [Ed. note: Neat treat!]  was nearly $20, and while it was good, that’s money I would prefer to spend on non-casual dining experiences. Also there was a fancy pants family celebrating Rosh Hashanah next to us (it wasn’t a wedding, JCW). You don’t see that at OCB or Chevy’s.

Aaron says: Despite being fancier, I think you could get away with wearing pretty casual clothes, like velvet flip flops.

Sarah: This wasn’t the Friday’s of my youth and I’m not sure how I feel about the sleeker, more sophisticated vibe they’re trying to go with.

John says: This is the first time I didn’t feel the true casual experience. There were people legitimately dressed up pretty nicely. We believe the group just to the left of us had come from a wedding (A SUNDAY WEDDING? WHO WOULD DO THAT?).

Rachel says: John, I would do that. And if memory serves, you had a f***ing delightful time at my Sunday wedding. Put that in your chuppah and smoke it. But I agree, this wasn’t as casual as anticipated. I think it still falls squarely in the “casual dining” category, because it still has things like build-your-own appetizer platters, but it’s definitely a notch above most of the places we’ve visited.

Casualosity rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Cheesecake:

Since we had very limited time to wrap up our meal before heading to trivia, we were forced to order our dessert to go. Yet another rushed decision, but in this case, it worked out quite well. We got the cheesecake to go, and at it at our leisure.

Jenna says: Best yet, by far! I’m thinking about making to go TGI Friday’s cheesecake a new Sunday trivia tradition.

Sarah says: Close to the best we have had so far! I wish I would have had more than one bite, but the other casual diners had to get going to trivia so they took the rest to go. Lame. They better not do that when we go to the actual Cheesecake Factory!!

John says: We took the cheesecake (save Sarah who didn’t attend trivia) to go. It was actually really tasty. It didn’t have the same perfection of an OCB piece of cheesecake but pretty close.

Cheesecake rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Beverages:

Jenna says: Ok Margarita – a bit too sweet. Way too expensive. Also: I seem to order margaritas at every casual dining, so I’m making an executive decision and judging drinks on margaritas. Specifically on how many margs I’d drink at that specific establishment. this time around: 2 margaritas, though I regret the second one due to price.

Sarah says: I had a booze-free paradise punch. It was tasty without being too sweet.

John says: I got something a Peach Honey Smash. It was some sort of Jack Daniels concoction. I was happy.

Rachel. I had water. The water was fine.

Beverages rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Favorite part:

Jenna says: Going to a casual dining in my current hometown, the lovely St Louis Park, first best suburb! 

Aaron says: Sharing the cheesecake at trivia.

Sarah says: When John made sure we were all wearing flair.

John says: We kind of threw this trip together on the fly. So my favorite part is that our group made time to get together to hang out. AWWWWWWWWWWWWW!

Rachel says: John going the extra mile and bringing flair for us. They may not wear flair anymore at Friday’s, but we’ll always wear flair in our hearts. Our hearts are the flair. 

Least favorite part:

Jenna says: I spent too much money.

Sarah says: When the servers were not sporting any flair.

John says: Being in Saint Louis Park and not Roseville.

Rachel says: Straying from my heart’s true desire and not getting something doused in Jack Daniels. It was ok, I won’t make that mistake again.

Mistake.
Mistake.

Overall TGI Friday’s rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Next encounter: We jump WAY up the list to Buca di Beppo (#3) in honor of Rachel’s birthday!

 

*Much to his annoyance, apparently.

Chili’s: Diners on the Storm

Chili’s (#21 on our list) holds a special place in many of our group members’ hearts. This was one of the crucial hangs in high school (if it wasn’t after hours. After hours, it’s Perkin’s or GTFO.). The sensory memories here are strong, and expectations of the food tasting the same as back then were simultaneously high and low. Cautious optimism, thy name is casual dining.

Food: After much deliberation (seriously, there were way too many choices on the menu), a surprising number of steaks were ordered considering the Tex-Mex theme of the restaurant.

Aaron says: I naturally went with chiiiillliiii’s baby back ribs, being one of their signature dishes, or at least the only thing that I can remember from any of their commercials.  I went with the original BBQ sauce, as I didn’t feel like venturing into the world of Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce.  I don’t know if I could handle the responsibility of BBQ sauce laced with Dr. Pepper.  Plus, it was a school night.  The ribs were good, not great, but as expected.  The BBQ sauce tasted good, but the meat itself was a little flavorless.  

Sarah says: The menu was too much. There was the main, huge menu and then two additional “special” menus. Why? Rachel made a great call by bringing in a coupon for chips and queso. The queso had a hint of beans which made it gross to look at but delicious to eat. For my entrée, I had a 6 oz. steak that seemed bigger than 6 oz. It wasn’t anything special, but it was only $12.99, it tasted fine and was cooked as I ordered it (medium rare). (By the way, did you know Donald Trump orders his steak well done? Well, he does. Not surprising, right?) 

Jenny says: – It was Colorado Springs, 2001. I remember a specific moment in high school of eating perfectly golden and delicious Chili’s Chicken Crispers. I’ve been chasing that taste every since…last week. I was not disappointed! I ordered the classic -i repeat, classic – Chicken Crispers. I don’t know what the new Crispers are and I don’t care.  My chicken was again crunchy on the outside and juicy white inside. The side of corn on the cob was also delish.

Rachel says: I had a coupon for free queso, so I was delighted to treat the group to that crucial part of the Chili’s experience. But it was only ok. Not that that stopped me from eating a bunch of it. After much entree deliberation, I landed on the Quesadilla Explosion Salad (which was basically the name of what happened to John after our visit to Chevy’s). It was your average “southwest” salad, aka a regular salad where chili powder has been added to the ranch dressing, plus pieces of cheese quesadilla as garnish. That’s definitely not a complaint, though. I took said garnish home for lunch the next day. Two meals in one: That’s value. 

John says: I was very happy with my choice. I got the ribeye and a loaded baked potato for a side. It was cooked to my liking and had good flavor. We also had a coupon for queso and chips. Both were adequate. 

Food rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Service: Our server, Kale/Cale/Cael, was friendly and unflappable, which is very impressive considering there were plenty of children in his section, along with a group that had the damndest time making up their minds on what they wanted to order (read: us). But things took an immediate downtown at the end of the evening when Caheale handed referred us to the “Ziosk” on our table (heretofore only recognized as a gaming machine) to pay our bills. It was nice that things were split up by seat, but Jesus H. Christ it took 10x longer to pay our bill because of it. It’s supposed to “revolutionize the dining experience,” and it did, in that it turned it from one where the server runs payment on a machine he is familiar with, to one where we have to do our best to figure out who should pay what while the server ignores us.  After submitting payment, the Ziosk asks for your feedback on your experience. Everyone commented on how the Ziosk, the very thing that was asking the question, had somewhat ruined that experience. Ironic.

Aaron says: With many of the servers we’ve encountered on our casual experience vision quest (for food), Cale (sp?) warmed up to us more and more as he realized how fun we were.  I mean, we were fun the whole time, it just took him a while to realize it.  The only knock on the service here was handing us off to the robotic “Ziosk” for paying our bills.  Then we were left to fend for ourselves for picking our meal and dealing with the card reader on the machine.  In theory it seems like there’s a place for it, but for a group of people paying separately, it made the bill-paying process longer than it needed to be. 

Sarah says: Cale was friendly and I liked the positive affirmations he gave us when we finished our entire molten lava cake. One thing that was not cool, Cale, was laughing us off when we asked about the tornado emergency plan. The weather was very ominous, and it was really coming down out there. Yet Cale did not assist us in preparing for possible tornadoes. Luckily, Aaron took his belt off and used it to demonstrate the technique used at the end of Twister. Thanks for picking up Cale’s slack, Aaron. Aaron gets 5 cheesecakes for his safety demonstration. 

Jenny says: Chilis did not have an evacuation plan in the event of monsoons, but Cael eased our worries that the Chili’s reinforced nuclear shelter could withstand this storm. Cael was attentive and pleasant. No complaint. No near Earth experience from what I hear. [Ed. note: Truth.] Also, the table machine that took all of our payments seemed pleasant as well. [Ed. note: Jenny was obviously using some different payment kiosk from the rest of us.]

John says: Cael was great. Attentive and funny. He complimented us on our ability to finish the desserts we ordered. Flattery will get you everywhere. 

Rachel says: I also appreciated how he told us we did a good job with finishing our desserts (we did). I liked his tolerance for John’s insistence on knowing of an evacuation plan, as if we didn’t all know it was going to be some variation on “Hit the exit and run like hell. Or find someone with a strong belt and a plan.”

Service ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Ambiance: The most impressive thing about the ambiance here was that it’s exactly the same as any other Chili’s, at any other point in time. Their commitment to faux-Spanish tile holds fast and true.

Jenny says: It was a quiet Wednesday. We were seated near people but not too close. The only complaint was a screaming kid. But that’s what they do, right? The random lone sled on the wall was out of place but might be comforting if the storm was in January and not August.

John says: Pretty standard fare. It was kind of cramped where they seated us. It was absolutely pouring outside to the point where it was terrifying. We kept checking to see if it was still coming down out there. We then asked about Chilis’s storm plan. They didn’t have one. Sigh. [Ed. note: Stop being such a baby, John. Obviously Aaron’s belt skills would have saved us in the event of a tornado.]

Sarah sees the storm approach.
Sarah sees the storm approach.

Rachel says: I thought their “crap on the walls” aesthetic was lacking in conviction. Don’t just put up a random sled on the wall, with nothing near it, and expect me to be filled with whimsy. 

Ambiance rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake  fresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Casualosity: Casual in high school, casual in our 30s.

Aaron says: Went in with my velvet flip flops and went out with very wet velvet flip flops.  They fit right in with the fitting tiled table tops and random sh** on the walls. 

Sarah: Chili’s was extremely casual, but not in the way I wanted. First of all, Chili’s was too casual about tornado preparedness. Also, the lights were too bright, the music was too quiet, and the atmosphere seemed kind of sterile. It was not the cozy, warm environment that I like to see in a casual dining establishment. Also, part of the casualosity at Chili’s is the Ziosk at each table, which is used for trivia and to pay the bill. It seemed as though the first few minutes of trivia were free and then you would have to pay after that. But nope, we were charged $1.99 for three minutes of trivia. That’s shady, Chili’s. 

Jenny: I felt pretty casual and relaxed. I was not the least bit embarrassed by Aaron’s velvet flip flops. It would have been more cas’ if you didn’t have to pay $2 to play electronic trivia. 

John says: Totes casual. More room would be nice. 

Casualosity ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Beverages: Your typical casual dining selection. But also, 2-4-1’s!

Aaron says: 2-4-1s! They had two for one house margaritas.  I went with original flavor, on the rocks.  Maybe a little sugary, but also what I expect from a fine establishment like Chili’s.  

Jenny says: I had a classic Margarita, the El Presidente. (Wait is that the the president). While it was not on the 2 for 1 menu (I found out later), it was worth it. The little, royal blue shaker they give you is like a magic lamp of never ending ‘rita. It was just right. [Ed. note: Apparently every single Presidente marg is shaken exactly 25 times on the way to your table. We didn’t see Cale shake Jenny’s marg, so we can only assume this standard was kept. Still, an interesting factoid, no?]

John says: I had two delicious house margaritas! They were two for one. It felt like college again! 

Beverages ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Cheesecake/dessert: There’s really only once choice when it comes to dessert at Chili’s: Molten chocolate cake. But we also ordered the cheesecake, because we’re professionals with a job to do.

Aaron says: Cheesecake, meh.  Molten chocolate cake: delish! 

Sarah says: The molten lava cake was exactly what I wanted in a dessert. I felt absolutely no shame as I helped myself to the last bite without asking anyone else if they wanted it. When it comes to molten lava cake, it’s every woman for herself.

Jenny says: The cheesecake was ordinary but thankfully I have low cheesecake standards. The other concoction we ordered  (what was it?) was gooey, sugar heaven [Ed. note: Goddamn right, it was]. We devoured it. I loved the balance of cold ice cream and hot chocolate brownie.

John says: Fairly standard cheesecake (nowhere near as good as Old Country Buffet’s).  [Ed note: GOD DAMN IT JOHN.]

Rachel says: As sure as the sun rises in the morning, Chili’s molten chocolate cake is delicious and tastes the same as it always has. 

From left to right: Glorious, meh.
From left to right: Glorious, meh.

Cheesecake/dessert ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Favorite part of the casual encounter: 

Aaron says: Two for one margaritas and getting to FINALLY order chiiiilllliiii’s baby back ribs.  My parents never let me as a kid.  

Aaron finally gets to try Chili's famous baby back ribs, just like he always wanted when he was a little girl.
Aaron finally gets to try Chili’s famous baby back ribs, just like he always wanted when he was a little girl.

Sarah says: This doesn’t really have anything to do with Chili’s, but you know when you’re a little kid and there’s a tornado warning and even though the tornadoes are nowhere near your town, your parents usher you down to the basement where you play board games and listen to weather alerts on the radio until the tornado warning expires? And it feels fun and exciting because you know that your safety isn’t in any real jeopardy? Reliving that feeling was my favorite part of our Chili’s experience.

Jenny says: Reliving my high school memories through food and booze. And being a part of a cool club. [Ed. note: Aw, thanks!]

John says: Favorite part-all of our great jokes about the weather. And of course the great jokes about their shitty paying stations. Sigh.

Rachel says: Time traveling back to high school, on those rare nights when my parents would let me go out for dinner before a school dance instead of making me eat dinner at home with them. Molten chocolate cake, get in my mouth. 

Least favorite part: 

Aaron says: Ziosks.  F*** those little robot bastards

Sarah says: The kiosks. Worst thing to ever happen to casual dining. This better not be a trend. 

Jenny says: Leaving during the rain. And Aaron splashed me when he ran by. 

John says: Having to drive home in what I believe was Hurricane Katrina Part 2: World Pup. 

Rachel says: The storm. It was really coming down out there. 

Aaron and John valiantly try to figure out the Ziosk payments.
Aaron and John valiantly try to figure out the Ziosk payments.
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Aaron voices his displeasure at the Ziosk experience.

Overall Chili’s Ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake fresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

See you all for our next Casual Encounter: Fuddrucker’s!

Chevy’s, With a Hard “Ch”

We all forgot to ask if it’s pronounced Shevy’s or Tchevy’s.

Our latest adventure was at Chevy’s Fresh Mex (#19 on our list), yet another chain that only has one remaining outpost in Minnesota. The downtown Minneapolis Chevy’s tried to keep the fiesta going but closed years ago and is still sitting empty, an ode to Minneapolis’ fickle downtown dining scene. Anyway. The crew entered with someone low expectations for the food, but high expectations for the evening since we would be joined by none other than Rachel’s mom, Helen. Make no mistake, Helen can hang with a casual encounter.

Food:

At first glance, the menu seemed to be a run-of-the-mill Tex Mex restaurant. All subsequent glances confirmed that first impression.

Jenna says: The trip started strong with a super delicious salsa experience. Very smokey with the perfect amount of heat. Unfortunately the chips and salsa were the peak – my chicken enchiladas were “meh”, definitely not worthy of a trip to Bloomington. That being said, the house made masa garnish was delicious. 

John says: I was very excited to go to Chevy’s. I’ve had good experiences and good food there before. Our server, Desirae, complimented me both on my beverage (peach margarita on the rocks) and meal (steak ‘dilla) choices. Unfortunately, the next morning I didn’t feel well and had to spend a good amount of time on the toilet [Ed. note: Ew.]. The food tasted good but the pain the next day severely downgraded it. 

sitting on toilet 2
Artist’s rendering

Aaron says: My fajitas came to the table sizzling hot.  Even after the server, and Helen, said that the pan was hot, I had to test it anyway.  Yes, it was hot.  I think they were light on the number of tortillas, but there were some extras from the others at the table so it worked out.  They were also tasty as a snack a few hours later.  

Rachel says: Fajitas at a place like this are one of my favorite things, because then I don’t have to do the insane amount of mental gymnastics required for me to get all the stuff I want on one plate. Seriously, the amount of time I spent staring at the menu figuring out a way to get rice AND beans AND not pay a $2 upcharge for sour cream (seriously??) would try anyone’s patience. The fajitas were a little more expensive (probably to swallow that sour cream margin), but my mom was paying, so #yolo. I also had my leftovers for lunch the next day, with no abnormal digestion issues. And let it be know that Helen LOVED the fajita presentation.

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Helen says “ole!”

Overall food rating  (note our new and improved cheesecake icons!):

Before John’s unhappy toilet fest  fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

After John’s unhappy toilet fest fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Service:

Like many of our Casual Encounter servers, Desirae was exceptional. She had a great sense of humor, complimented our menu choices, was Sally-On-the-Ball with refills of both chips and beverages, and even saved one in our party from esophageal catastrophe.

John says: Desirae was personable, attentive, and friendly. Can’t say enough good things. Plus, she complimented me a lot while ignoring the others. There’s nothing I like more than being the center of attention. 

Aaron says: Ample chips and salsa. Good recommendations. 

Jenna says: While Desire didn’t reach the level of Earth from the Rainforest Cafe, she was VERY good! More importantly, she saved my life. After a horrific glass breaking incident that occurred near the bar [Ed. note: None of us actually saw said incident, so we can neither confirm nor deny if it was indeed “horrific”], she made sure that my drink was remade so that it was glass free. Seriously, I might not be here typing if it were not for her. So I take it back, sorry Earth, Desire is to me as David Hasselhoff is to every girl on a beach in the mid-90s LA: a dreamy lifesaver. 

Rachel says: I appreciated Desirae’s positive attitude and her safety precautions. It’s not her fault Aaron touched the hot fajita plate. 

Overall service rating:  fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Ambience:

Chevy’s boasts a typical Mexican chain restaurant color palette (warm, reddish tones) and junk on the walls, but was refreshingly devoid of most of the stereotypical decorations i.e. serapes and sombreros. It definitely had more of a fishing village vibe than a cantina one.

John says: There was a boat/camper hung from the ceiling. That was pretty cool. Otherwise, fairly blah. 

Aaron says: The main thing that stuck out to me was the camper hanging from the ceiling right behind our table. Lots of other random Tex-Mex junk hanging on the walls.

Jenna says: Very laid back beachy vibe with a boat (or pop up camper if you ask Rachel) hanging from the ceiling. I love boats, so this totally worked for me. 

Rachel says: I want to thank everyone for continuing to make fun of me for thinking,  until about a month ago, that pop-up campers were actually pontoon boats (they’re both square-ish!!! I don’t have a lake home! Cut me a break!). So now, every time we see a boat, they point out the “pop-up camper” to me. Great friends. Other than that, I got an amazing Chi-Chi’s vibe from this place. If there is one dead restaurant I wish I could revive, it would totally be Chi-Chi’s. So that made me happy. 

Overall ambiance ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Casualosity:

Aaron says: No one kicked me out for wearing my velvet flip flops.  

Jenna says: Had it not been for the rainy, cool day, I feel like it would have been totally acceptable for Aaron Smith to have been wearing swim trunks with his velvet flip flops.

John says: Very casual. I appreciated that they made their chips in house, for us to see! 

Overall casualosity rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Dessert/cheesecake:

They might as well set fire to any dessert menu at a Tex-Mex chain, because there basically is one dessert and one dessert only: Fried ice cream. But, since one person in our group is hilariously allergic to cinnamon (and we never let him forget it) we had to branch out. All desserts were served in confusingly, unnecessarily large vessels. It was like eating ice cream out of a flower vase [Ed. note: Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it].

Aaron: I was real excited for fried ice cream, but considering it was cinnamon ice cream fried with a cinnamon battered shell served on top of cinnamon crisps, I abstained.  [Ed. note: That is literally all fried ice cream at every restaurant. Not sure what weirdo place you went to that didn’t have cinnamon on its fried ice cream.]

Aaron's Blizzard that he bought because wittle baybay is allergic to cinnamon.
Aaron’s cinnamon-free Blizzard that he bought on the way home. Womp womp.

John says: This also may have contributed to a bad bathroom morning the next day. I shared fried ice cream with others. It was tasty but way too big. 

Jenna says: Just cinnamon. So much cinnamon. On everything.

Rachel says: My dessert was some kind of fried dough thing with dipping sauces. It was served in a goblet shaped like a champagne flute on steroids. It’s hard to mess up fried dough, but they managed to do it. The fried bits were all very dry, and the dipping sauces should have been served warm. 

Overall dessert rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Beverages:

Your typical Tex Mex offerings.

John says: My peach margarita was delicious. 

Aaron says: Non-cinnamon margarita [Ed. note: Duh], decent, but a little spendy, especially for the fancier ones. 

Jenna says: DELICIOUS MARAGRITAS. And I’m a tough critic. I paid extra for the “top shelf marg” and there was an excellent ratio of booze to lime, with no sugary mix. Also, John Ward was super happy with the fruity drink he ordered, which was definitely the most Sex in the City-worthy cocktail on the menu. All we needed was a penis straw and we could have relived his epic bachelorette party! Wooooo girls! 

Overall beverages rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Favorite part:

Jenna says: Our Special Guest – Fargo’s own Helen Levitt! And let’s be honest, that margarita.

Aaron says: Helen “something funny” Levitt. I couldn’t think of any nickname in time. 

John says: Being joined by another special guest! Rachel’s mom Helen joined in the fun. She even thought our poop jokes were funny. Big win. 

Rachel says: Having my mom there to witness and partake in the glory of the Casual Encounters team. She’s a great lady, folks. I also enjoyed the smug feeling of not getting sick after eating there, in contrast with John. 

Least favorite part: 

John: The pit in my stomach the next morning. 

Jenna: The prices DID NOT reflect the laid back, casual beach vibe. I feel like the prices were on par with Barrio, and no matter how many of those delicious margs I have, Chevy’s will never be Barrio.

Overall Chevy’s rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

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Our next outing: It’s a Tex-Mex Twofer! We’re headed to Chili’s in Roseville for our next outing.